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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

With Covid-19 hot on its heels, the census won’t come knocking at your door, but you can call it in by phone or get help by dialing into a call center. There always is the option of mailing in the questionnaire or sending in an online response. But a face-to-face interaction with a census taker is unlikely anytime in the near future.

It was not meant to be this way.

When the Census Bureau kicked off its 2020 campaign with a master plan ten years in the making, to address undercounts, hard to reach populations and going digital – the one challenge no master plan could have anticipated was a pandemic that swept across the nation, disrupting and delaying the possibility of an accurate census count.

Census takers were set to go-door-door in late May to track down people who had not responded to the initial2020 Census invitation or to the follow up paper reminders. However, field operations were dialed back as the coronavirus wrecked every best laid plan across the nation.

Despite the turmoil caused by the coronavirus, more than 50 percent of American households have responded to their initial invitations, with Minnesota leading the national response rate. California currently ranks among the top three states with a response rate of 51.7%; of the 7,8000,000 Californian households that self-responded to the census invitation, 46.8% used the Internet.

But, with COVID-19 upending plans for in-person follow-up of people who have not responded or who live in hard to count areas, census takers will not be knocking on doors or holding community campaigns to get that decennial count. The danger of community spread inherent in face-to-face interactions and public gatherings is forcing organizers to cancel promotional events. Instead the Census Bureau will revise schedules, delay key deadlines and offer alternate options to ensure a complete head count

Under adjustments to the operational plan, census field activities will resume after June 1 this year, while the self-responses timeframe for online, phone and mail data collection has been extended till end October.

This means that people who have no internet access but still need assistance with the questionnaire, or who want to complete the census by phone, can dial the Census call centers for help. However,  callers may experience increased call wait times after the census bureau implemented social distancing measures and staffing adjustments to protect call center staff, in response to federal guidelines.

So, the anticipation of high call volumes has spurred the Census Bureau to restore a callback option which it had temporarily deactivated due to staffing adjustments. With the reinstated call back option callers can leave a message (preferred phone number and time of day for a return call) and receive a timely call back from a census taker to process their Census response..

Currently the callback option is available in seven languages – English, Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. As of April 14, the callback option is available in seven more languages – Arabic, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese and Tagalog.

The Census Bureau also offers live customer service representatives supporting direct phone lines to 14 languages Monday through Friday from 8am to 10 pm Eastern Time:

To complete the questionnaire by phone, call 844-330-2020 or contact the Public Information Office at 301-763-3030 or

Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.

image: Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

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Meera Kymal

Meera Kymal is the Managing Editor at India Currents and Founder/Producer at She produces multi-platform content on the South Asian diaspora through the lens of social justice,...